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Sessions: Build a Wall to End 'Terrible Choice' of Separating Migrant Families

 Jeff Sessions speaks at the National Sheriffs' Association

Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the Trump administration policy of separating families at the border, declaring "this country is dedicated to caring for children" and stressing how much is being spent on their room and board.

The Department of Homeland Security reported Friday that 1,995 minors traveling with 1,940 adults who said they were the children's guardians have been separated under the administration's zero-tolerance deterrence policy between April 19 through May 31 this year. More than 100 of those kids are under 4 years old.

The zero-tolerance deterrence policy, which White House adviser Stephen Miller told the New York Times was "a simple decision," was slammed by former first lady Laura Bush over the weekend as "cruel" and "immoral." She added, "These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history."

Speaking to the National Sheriffs' Association conference in New Orleans today, Sessions said there was "an important conversation occurring in this country about whether we want to be a country of laws or whether we want to be a country without borders."

"We do not want to separate children from their parents. We do not want adults to bring children into this country unlawfully, placing them at risk," he said. "But we do have a policy of prosecuting adults who flout our laws to come here illegally instead of waiting their turn or claiming asylum at any port of entry. We cannot and will not encourage people to bring children by giving them blanket immunity from our laws."

Sessions blamed past policies that he said encouraged family immigration with immunity from prosecution, leading to a fivefold increase over the past four years.

The Department of Health and Human Services, he added, "is spending over a billion taxpayer dollars a year caring for these minors."

"That is an enormous cost that we bear because we sent a message to those crossing illegally to bring children and avoid prosecution and deportation. This country is dedicated to caring for children," Sessions said. "We have a generous, lawful system that admits over a million people a year with legal status. But when we ignore our laws at the border we obviously encourage hundreds of thousands of people a year to likewise ignore our laws and illegally enter our country, creating an enormous burden on our law enforcement, our schools, our hospitals, and social programs."

The attorney general argued that "if we build the wall, if we pass legislation to end the lawlessness, we won't face these terrible choices."

"We will have a system where those who need to apply for asylum can do so and those who want to come to this country will apply legally," he said. "The American people are generous people who want our laws enforced. That is what we intend to do, and we ask Congress to be our partners in this effort."